The Volvo Ocean Race: More than just a pleasure cruise

Every three years, the best sailors on the planet gather to compete in one of the most grueling yacht races around.

For nine months their sailing credentials are tested as they battle it out for a prestigious spot on the race’s podium. It’s touted as one of the three biggest global sailing events, and for good reason.

Individuals battle the elements, each other and their own demons while being cramped for weeks at a time on a vessel no more than 22 metres long. It’s certainly not for everyone, but veterans of the race recognise it one of the greatest modern-day sailing challenges.

So just what exactly is in store for anybody crazy enough to tackle an adventure of this kind? Crews are made up of between eigh and 12 individuals, including one dedicated media person.

The 2014/2015 race fleet saw seven crews come up against each other in a one-class race. For the first time in its history, race organisers enforced a one-class event, meaning that all crews raced the 65-foot Volvo Ocean 65 – a yacht designed specifically for ocean racing.

And life onboard can get pretty rough. The 2014/2015 race saw crews sail in excess of 39, 000 kilometres across four of the world’s oceans. If the idea of battling 100 foot waves in the middle of the night has you pitching, you’re probably not alone. But for these crew, this is what draws them – the chance to prove themselves. The race sees sailors endure some of the craziest weather on God’s blue earth, extreme temperature fluctuations, cramped living conditions, constant damp and noise, sleep deprivation, physical exertion and, well… the very real threat of drowning. As if that’s not enough, the race is split into legs, some of which last for weeks. That means that sometimes crews are at sea for as much as 25 days with very little contact from the outside world and just about as far from their loved ones as possible. And all this in the name of fun?

The race visits 11 different countries including South Africa. At each stopover crews are given 2 weeks to recuperate and prepare for the next leg, while the race organisers use the time to promote the sport of sailing. Any Capetonians interested in the sport should be sure to check it out when the fleet comes to your city in 2017/2018. For those of you that can’t wait that long to get onto the water, there are plenty of places that offer sailing courses in Cape Town.

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